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Let Me Count the Ways
was his first kiss, a moment when no one was running the show and no
calculations were being made. In so many ways, says JOHN TARRANT, love
is like enlightenment. It teaches us how to live down a level, to follow
instructions that come from deep inside.
Question: Why is it like this?
Teacher: It is for your benefit, honored one.
love strikes, it fills us with an inner glow that everyone can see. We
skip through the day humming old Beatles songs, smitten by the swish of a
dress, the smile of a bus driver, the old couple holding hands at the
light, and the shine on the hulls of upside-down canoes at the dock.
Love also wakes us from sleep and does not let us rest; it makes us tear
out our hair and run screaming into the night as if attacked by unseen
assailants. Love is an enlightenment story available to everyone, and
that story includes being attacked by demons as well as being showered
with roses. If we widen our gaze, in love, we discover what we like
about ourselves and how we want to live our life.
first time I kissed a girl, her green eyes filled my view, sunlight
bounced from the river and off the undersides of leaves; it glowed on
the sweat from our skin, mingling quietly; with my arms around her, my
wrists resting on the strings of her bikini, she was a bird with angular
shoulder blades, my hands hardly dared to close on her skin, and when
we kissed we both began to tremble involuntarily.
was pretty much it for our relationship and the next day, when I bought
her a Coke and she said “I like Pepsi,” a fatal rift appeared. Our
brief meeting provided me with guidance, though. On behalf of that kiss,
I was ready to indulge anything, to forgive anything, to enjoy anything
she did. I had been converted to a new religion.
wants a life-changing experience—something that allows us to see how
green is the grass, how fragile are the pear blossoms, how luminous is
the girl’s cheek, how disappointing it is to be right or superior to
others, and how eternal and welcoming is the moment that is always in
flight, never to return. The kiss was personal and particular, and it
was a transcendent moment too, a moment when no one was running the show
and no calculations were being made.
typically holds itself aloof from love, puts love in the too-hard
basket, but the difficult bits of life, the exciting ones, are often the
gates to what is real and good. The moment of love takes away the walls
around the world and a larger aspect of the universe is seen. It is a
I once asked the Australian poet Judith Wright, “How is it when you write?” She replied, “The pen shakes in my hand.”
poetry and pop songs, love is fatal, an arrow through the heart. We’re
driving in a fast car—too late to stop now, it can’t be reversed—and the
old life that hitherto seemed perfectly adequate can now no longer be
lived. In the mythology of Zen, too, the image of transformation is that
a fire burns you up, or there’s a snake on the path and you can’t avoid
it. You lose your life and everything else as well, like the scholar
who, on awakening, burned all the notes he had ever taken. Love and
enlightenment are both fatal discoveries.
respectable view is that falling in love is full of delusions,
projections, and misunderstandings. But if we reverse that idea, we can
ask, how is love actually very much like enlightenment? Let me count the
hits people over the head when they are not looking for it, and the
same can be said for epiphanies and enlightenments. We fall into them.
An opening appears in regular life, and what follows doesn’t necessarily
fit in regular life. That opening changes your frame of reference and
then, well, anything might happen. Both awakening experiences and
falling in love always seem to be followed by a period of sorting things
out and discovering the implications of what happened.
sorting strategy is to spend time trying to repeat the enlightenment by
falling in love with a succession of people, or looking for a blissful
state in meditation. Efforts like these are hopeless but you can try